Inverse - 🛸 Finding Alien Earths

Cornell University
The Inverse Interview
An Astrobiologist Reveals Why She’s Optimistic We’ll Find Alien Life On Another Planet

Astrobiologist Lisa Kaltenegger spends her days building miniature worlds.

Kaltenegger and her colleagues study how different species and combinations of bacteria, plants, and fungi change the chemistry of the air around them. They then program all of that data into computer simulations that model how the whole atmosphere of a planet changes as life evolves. She then translates those model atmospheres into the spectrum of light astronomers might see through a telescope like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Someday, she hopes that the vials of well-tended microbes, tiny samples of hot lava, and thousands of lines of computer code in her labs will help astronomers recognize the chemical signs of life in the atmosphere of a distant planet.

In her recent book, Alien Earths: The New Science of Planet Hunting in the Cosmos, Kaltenegger describes the result as a “light fingerprint” for life (and one of its telltale features is a combination of oxygen and methane).

Inverse talked with Kaltenegger about exoplanets, aliens, and how science mixes caution with optimism.

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5 Years Ago, the Original Quest Reinvented Video Games With a New Dimension

Whether Meta is right that the next frontier for computers (and connection) lies somewhere in augmented and mixed reality experiences you wear on your face — the Vision Pro is proof enough that Apple shares its line of thinking.

To Meta’s credit, you can trace today’s growing mixed reality headsets back to the original Oculus Quest, released five years ago in 2019. The Quest was Meta’s (then Facebook) first standalone (read: wireless) VR headset. Not needing a wired connection to a powerful gaming PC had a major upside: VR became more affordable.

But the real selling point to the Quest, and most of the headsets that followed it, was that it prioritized playing games first, and “the future of computing” second. The Quest made spatial, room-scale, video games accessible to the mainstream for the first time. It turns out that games, not spreadsheets, are the main form of content that’s keeping people interested in strapping screens to their faces in the long term — provided they have compelling VR games to play.

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